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Troubleshooting Booting Problems

After you've prepared a drive as a bootable drive, your computer can use it to start your system. However, the drive and your computer must be properly configured to enable this to take place.

Before you can use any type of hard, floppy, removable-media, or optical disk as a bootable drive (a drive that can start your system), the following must be true about the disk:

  • The drive must be selected as a bootable device in the system BIOS (see Figure 3.29).

  • The drive must be properly prepared to be bootable. A hard disk must be prepared with a primary partition, be formatted, and have system files transferred to it. Other types of media must be formatted and have system files transferred to the media.

  • The drive must be properly identified in the system BIOS.

Figure 3.29 A typical advanced BIOS setup screen featuring a bootable drive selection option.

Troubleshooting Hard Disk or Optical Drive Bootup Problems

If you cannot start your system from a hard disk you were previously able to boot from, or you can't boot your system from a bootable Windows CD-ROM, check the following:

  • A floppy disk in Drive A:—A non-bootable floppy can't be used to start a system and also stops the entire system boot process if the floppy drive is listed before the CD-ROM and hard disk in the BIOS boot sequence. Remove the disk and try to restart the system.

  • The BIOS setup for the drive—Most drives use Auto as the setup type. If your drive is configured as User-Defined, check with the drive vendor's Web site to see if the values listed are correct for the drive. If they are not, reset the drive to Auto or enter the correct values, save the changes, and restart your system.

  • The boot order—Your hard disk should be listed somewhere in the boot order. In Windows 2000 or XP, I recommend that order be: CD-ROM, 1st hard disk, and then any other bootable device you may have. In Windows 9x or Me (which use a floppy disk as an emergency startup disk), I recommend: floppy disk, CD-ROM drive, and then your 1st hard disk.

  • Whether the drive has an active partition. A hard disk must be prepared as a primary partition and must be set as active before it can be used to start (boot) the system. Although FDISK for Windows 9x/Me isn't designed to be used with Windows 2000 or Windows XP, it can be used with any of these Windows versions to remark a primary partition as active:

    1. Start the computer with a Windows 9x/Me emergency startup disk. You can borrow one from a friend or make one from a Windows 98 CD-ROM.

    2. Type FDISK and press ENTER from the system prompt.

    3. Press Y to accept large hard disk support.

    4. Press Y to treat NTFS partitions as Large (displayed only if your hard disk was set up as NTFS initially).

    5. If no partition is set active, FDISK will display a warning. Type 2 from the FDISK main menu and press ENTER, then enter the number of the partition you want to make active (normally #1). If you see more than one partition listed, select the partition listed as NTFS or FAT32.

    6. Exit FDISK.

    7. Remove the startup disk and restart the computer.

On the Web

If your computer can't boot from a CD-ROM drive, you might want to create a boot floppy disk that enables you to start Windows XP or Windows 2000 in an emergency. Go to http://search.microsoft.com and search for the following articles:

  • Q305595 for the procedure for creating a Windows XP boot floppy disk
  • Q119467 for the procedure for creating a Windows 2000 boot floppy disk

See "Overview of Startup Problems," p. 123 for other types of startup problems and solutions.

If you are having problems booting your system and your drives and boot sequence are configured correctly, you might be having Windows-related startup problems.

Preparing Other Drives to Act as Bootable Devices

Having a bootable storage device other than your hard disk drive in case your hard drive fails for some unforeseen reason can be critical in recovering from a PC disaster. In cases where you cannot boot your PC from its hard disk, you could be helpless if you don't have some other means to boot up. While having bootable media for a floppy, CD-ROM, or other device won't fix the source problem, it can allow you to keep troubleshooting tools and utilities accessible in case of emergency. If you want to boot from other types of drives

  • The drive type you want to use must be listed as a bootable device in your system BIOS.

  • You must make sure the drive appears in the boot order before the hard disk.

  • You must prepare the media to act as a bootable device.

Most recent computers can use optical drives (CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM), floppy drives, and SCSI drives as bootable devices. Some can also use removable media drives such as LS-120/LS-240 SuperDisk drives and Zip drives as bootable devices. On most systems, all but SCSI drives must be connected to the ATA/IDE interface; drives other than hard disks that use this interface are often referred to as ATAPI drives. Some systems can also boot from drives connected to the USB port.

Windows 2000 and Windows XP can be started from the hard disk, high-capacity removable media that is prepared as a fixed disk, or from the Windows 2000 or Windows XP upgrade or OEM CD. See the previous section for information on how to make a bootable floppy disk.

If you want to prepare a CD-R, CD-RW, or recordable/rewriteable DVD disc as a startup disc with Windows, see the instructions for your CD mastering program. If you are a Windows 9x/Me user, keep in mind that you still need to create a bootable floppy in order to provide a source for boot files.

You can create a bootable floppy disk you can use to start your computer in case of emergencies with Windows 9x or Windows Me through the Add/Remove Programs icon in Control Panel.

  1. Open Add/Remove Programs

  2. Click Windows Startup Disk

  3. Follow the prompts to create a startup disk

The Windows 98 and Windows Me emergency disks contain drivers compatible with most CD-ROM or similar optical drives so it can be used to reinstall Windows from the CD-ROM. If you still use Windows 95, the Windows 95 emergency disk doesn't contain CD-ROM device drivers. You can add them yourself or borrow a Windows 98 emergency disk from another user to start your computer with CD-ROM support.

Fast Track to Success

If you want more powerful diagnostics tools (including anti-virus) that you can run from a bootable disk than what the Windows emergency boot disk provides, consider picking up Norton System Works 2003 for your Windows 98, Me, 2000, or XP computer, particularly if your XP/2000 drives are formatted as FAT32 drives. Get more information at the Symantec Web site


If you're still using Windows 95, you need to use Norton System Works 2001. It's no longer sold at most retail stores, but various Internet closeout outlets might still have copies for sale. Use a search engine such as Google and you're likely to track down several sources.

The Professional (Pro) versions add support for drive imaging and faxing, but if you don't need those features, the standard versions work very well.

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